Franz X. Vollenweider

Clinician, Scientist

Dr. Franz X. Vollenweider is a professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of Zurich. Also, he is co-director of the Center for Psychiatric Research, the director of Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging, and a medical doctor. In addition, he directs the Consciousness Studies section of the Heffter Research Center in Zurich. The center conducts advanced studies using psilocybin for treating cancer patients in distress and people with addictions.

Dr. Vollenweider received his doctorate and medical degrees from the University of Zurich. Over the course of his career he has published over 100 scientific papers. His main research area is understanding the mechanisms of psychostimulants, hallucinogens, and entactogens in humans.

Research Focus

The effects of LSD on serotonin receptors in the brain is one of Dr. Vollenweider’s current areas of focus.1–7 In his most recent work, he studied how LSD could help people who have social impairments related to a psychiatric disorder.6 Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) he found LSD reduced activity in areas of the brain important for ‘self-processing’ and social cognition (how people process, store, and apply information about social situations and other people). He also discovered the effects of LSD were blocked by ketanserin, a serotonin 5-HT2A receptor agonist. Vollenweider concluded substances that effect 5-HT2A receptors can change social behaviors in humans, pointing to a possible treatment route.

Dr. Vollenweider is also studying the effects of psilocybin on human behavior, brain function, and serotonin receptors in the brain.8–20 In 1998, he showed that a schizophrenia-like psychosis in humans brought on by psilocybin was caused by its antagonism to the serotonin 2A receptor.15 This was the first time any researcher had shown that psilocybin-induced psychosis could be caused solely by activation of the serotonin 2A receptor.

In another first, Vollenweider and his team looked at how psilocybin alters time perception and people’s ability to keep a beat.11 Twelve healthy volunteers were selected for a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Subjects who took psilocybin had difficulty reproducing beat intervals longer than 2.5 seconds. They also had difficulty synchronizing with beats that had intervals longer than 2.0 seconds. Also, they were slower than controls when replicating their preferred tapping rate. The subjects reported changes in their conscious state described as ‘depersonalization’ and ‘derealization.’ They also experienced deficits in their working memory. The researchers concluded, “the serotonin system is selectively involved in duration processing of intervals longer than 2 to 3 seconds and in the voluntary control of the speed of movement.” The effects are thought to be due to psilocybin’s interactions with the 5-HT2A receptor.

More information on Dr. Vollenweider is found on the University of Zurich website and his LinkedIn profile.

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  1. Schmid Y, Enzler F, Gasser P, et al. Acute effects of lysergic acid diethylamide in healthy subjects. Biological psychiatry. 2015;78(8):544-553.
  2. Kraehenmann R, Pokorny D, Aicher H, et al. LSD Increases Primary Process Thinking via Serotonin 2A Receptor Activation. Front Pharmacol. 2017;8. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00814
  3. Kraehenmann R, Pokorny D, Vollenweider L, et al. Dreamlike effects of LSD on waking imagery in humans depend on serotonin 2A receptor activation. Psychopharmacology. 2017;234(13):2031-2046. doi:10.1007/s00213-017-4610-0
  4. Preller KH, Herdener M, Pokorny T, et al. The fabric of meaning and subjective effects in LSD-induced states depend on serotonin 2A receptor activation. Current Biology. 2017;27(3):451-457
  5. Preller KH, Burt JB, Ji JL, et al. Changes in global brain connectivity in LSD-induced altered states of consciousness are attributable to the 5-HT2A receptor. bioRxiv. November 2017:219956. doi:10.1101/219956
  6. Preller KH, Schilbach L, Pokorny T, Flemming J, Seifritz E, Vollenweider FX. Role of the 5-HT2A receptor in self- and other-initiated social interaction in LSD-induced states — a pharmacological fMRI study. J Neurosci. March 2018:1939-17. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1939-17.2018
  7. Barrett FS, Preller KH, Herdener M, Janata P, Vollenweider FX. Serotonin 2A receptor signaling underlies LSD-induced alteration of the neural response to dynamic changes in music. Cerebral Cortex. 2017:1-12
  8. Umbricht D, Vollenweider FX, Schmid L, et al. Effects of the 5-HT2A Agonist Psilocybin on Mismatch Negativity Generation and AX-Continuous Performance Task: Implications for the Neuropharmacology of Cognitive Deficits in Schizophrenia. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003;28(1):170-181. doi:10.1038/sj.npp.1300005
  9. Carter OL, Burr DC, Pettigrew JD, Wallis GM, Hasler F, Vollenweider FX. Using Psilocybin to Investigate the Relationship between Attention, Working Memory, and the Serotonin 1A and 2A Receptors. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 2005;17(10):1497-1508. doi:10.1162/089892905774597191
  10. Studerus E, Kometer M, Hasler F, Vollenweider FX. Acute, subacute and long-term subjective effects of psilocybin in healthy humans: a pooled analysis of experimental studies. J Psychopharmacol. 2011;25(11):1434-1452. doi:10.1177/0269881110382466
  11. Wittmann M, Carter O, Hasler F, et al. Effects of psilocybin on time perception and temporal control of behaviour in humans. J Psychopharmacol. 2007;21(1):50-64. doi:10.1177/0269881106065859
  12. Vollenweider FX, Vontobel P, Hell D, Leenders KL. 5-HT Modulation of Dopamine Release in Basal Ganglia in Psilocybin-Induced Psychosis in Man—A PET Study with [11C]raclopride. Neuropsychopharmacology. 1999;20(5):424-433. doi:10.1016/S0893-133X(98)00108-0
  13. Lewis CR, Preller KH, Kraehenmann R, Michels L, Staempfli P, Vollenweider FX. Two dose investigation of the 5-HT-agonist psilocybin on relative and global cerebral blood flow. Neuroimage. 2017;159:70-78.
  14. Pokorny T, Preller KH, Kometer M, Dziobek I, Vollenweider FX. Effect of psilocybin on empathy and moral decision-making. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017;20(9):747-757.
  15. Vollenweider FX, Vollenweider-Scherpenhuyzen MFI, Bäbler A, Vogel H, Hell D. Psilocybin induces schizophrenia-like psychosis in humans via a serotonin-2 agonist action. NeuroReport. 1998;9(17):3897. Accessed May 14, 2018.
  16. Hasler F, Grimberg U, Benz MA, Huber T, Vollenweider FX. Acute psychological and physiological effects of psilocybin in healthy humans: a double-blind, placebo-controlled dose–effect study. Psychopharmacology. 2004;172(2):145-156. doi:10.1007/s00213-003-1640-6
  17. Vollenweider FX, Kometer M. The neurobiology of psychedelic drugs: implications for the treatment of mood disorders. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2010;11(9):642-651. doi:10.1038/nrn2884
  18. Vollenweider FX, Csomor PA, Knappe B, Geyer MA, Quednow BB. The Effects of the Preferential 5-HT2A Agonist Psilocybin on Prepulse Inhibition of Startle in Healthy Human Volunteers Depend on Interstimulus Interval. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2007;32(9):1876-1887. doi:10.1038/sj.npp.1301324
  19. Kometer M, Schmidt A, Jäncke L, Vollenweider FX. Activation of Serotonin 2A Receptors Underlies the Psilocybin-Induced Effects on α Oscillations, N170 Visual-Evoked Potentials, and Visual Hallucinations. J Neurosci. 2013;33(25):10544-10551. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3007-12.2013
  20. Kometer M, Schmidt A, Bachmann R, Studerus E, Seifritz E, Vollenweider FX. Psilocybin biases facial recognition, goal-directed behavior, and mood state toward positive relative to negative emotions through different serotonergic subreceptors. Biological psychiatry. 2012;72(11):898-906.